Once a Grieving Parent, Always a Grieving Parent

With a mom who is the 13th and youngest child in a large Mennonite family, it is easy to understand why the family seems to be shrinking at an alarming rate.   More and more of her siblings and/or their spouses are passing away.  It is to be expected.  Even though her mom lived to the ripe old age of almost 95, since she and her siblings are all over the age of 70, it could be expected.  It is sad but it is reality.  Life on this planet is finite.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my aunts and her daughter had a little get-together for my remaining aunts and uncles, including my parents.  My aunt wanted to acknowledge the one year anniversary of my uncle going to Heaven.  Eden, my 13-year old, calls such anniversaries “angel-versaries” which is not theologically accurate but seems to clarify the situation for most people.  I kinda like it.  After the “party” I was talking to my mom and she told me that one of my aunt’s daughters hadn’t come to the occasion.  Her dad’s death anniversary and the death anniversary of her first-born son fell in the same week and she just couldn’t do it.  It was too hard.

I contacted my cousin within the next couple of days to assure her that I was praying for her.  She responded that she expected that this time of year would always be hard and that she was “finding death very difficult to deal with”.  I should have remembered.  Having been in the same spot, I should have known that the anniversary of Samuel’s death was coming up but I didn’t.  I can still remember the phone call from my mom, telling me that there was a new baby in the family but he wasn’t expected to survive.  That was 21 years ago.  He lived for a day, 27 hours, before they took him off life support and he went home to be with Jesus.

Sometimes I think I should be over this.  I should be over losing my daughter.  But I’m not.  I can function.  I make dinner.  I grocery shop.  I make sure my kids have clean clothes.  I meet friends for coffee.  I take my kids to church every Sunday.  And I am still a mourning mom.  A mom who has had to bury her daughter.  It may have been almost 4 years ago but sometimes it feels like just yesterday.  Sometimes I think that the part of my life that included Arlynne has been frozen in time.  Everyone else in my life is growing up, rushing on and part of me is stuck.  I can never forget.

As a grieving mom I have heard story after story from grieving parents.  Be it in a support group or just in casual conversation, we are a breed of parents who seem to find other parents who have experienced the same thing.  I think we have to find each other because we need each other so desperately.  That isn’t a bad thing.  It just is.

I met one of those parents last summer.  I was in charge of making the refreshments for a series of concerts at a local church.  John was one of my best customers.  He always liked what I made and told me so.  Needless to say, I really liked him.  Until I found out, through a friend, that he had lost his daughter.  Something changed in our relationship.  The next time I saw him, I told him that we had something in common–we had both buried our daughters.  As he opened his wallet to show me her picture, his eyes filled with tears.  It was many years ago for him, but suddenly, it felt like yesterday.  He told me that he still mourned her, many years later.  Saying I still like him is inadequate.    We understand each other in a way few people do.  We have a heart-bond.

There are parents who have made mourning an identity.  They have developed an un-healthy fixation on all they have lost.  I don’t think I fit into that category.  My heart has suffered too severe a break to ever heal cleanly but it has healed.  My good friend gave me the image of a broken bone.  The place where the break occurred is still evident but the bone is bonded together in gold by my Father God Himself.  I will always be a grieving mom.  I will always have a daughter in Heaven.  I have a number of good friends who have been on this journey with me for a time.  They display sympathy, deep, loving sympathy, but they haven’t had to walk in my shoes.  They haven’t lost a child.

The bonds I have with other grieving parents will always go deeper because we know.  They might not have had the police officer at their door in the middle of the night.  Their child might not have had to have an autopsy.  They might never have seen their child’s body again.  They might have been able to say good-bye.  They might have had a long hospital vigil.  They might have had a chance for a last “I love you”.  The story is different but the ending is the same.  I know.  I have lived a similar story.  I know.

My faith in my Father God has made my life bearable.  Not perfect but okay.  My faith tells me that my daughter is in Heaven.  She loved God with everything she had.  She had committed her life to serving Him.  Her final destination is secure.  I know where she is.  I know I will see her again.  Not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But someday.

I like to think about that moment when we will be re-united.  I don’t know when that will be–but God does.  I think about all the time that has passed here so far and I wonder if I will live as long as my grandmother did.  If I do, the wait will be long.  But I don’t know.   I imagine her, turning around, just like she left a minute ago.  I picture that beautiful 16-year old girl who lived too short in my estimation but who completed all her Father God’s plans for her.  It may be a long time but the time of the reunion will be infinite.  No more death.  No more pain.  No more tears.  I might shed a few when I see her but maybe that will be okay.